Sunday, April 29, 2012

Living with Urban Wildlife

Moderator:  Bob Sallinger                                                View Readers' Comments

[Discussion topic: Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine]

I do most of my writing in the pre-dawn hours of the morning and this blog was no exception. However as I ensconced myself in my comfy chair and prepared to put finger to keyboard, my morning reverie was interrupted by a cacophony of squawking and bleating from the yard. It woke my wife who charged past me through the door still in her night clothes, followed closely behind by my shepherd cross who plunged into the darkness howling like the urban predator that he aspires to one day be.  A flashlight beam revealed the source of the commotion. In my small inner-city urban lot an opossum had forced its way into my chicken and goat shed looking for a meal. He probably would have settled for an egg but the chickens and goats were not taking any chances and they would wake the rising sun, not to mention the entire neighborhood, to plead their case. I carefully prodded him out of the shed with a shovel. He didn't play dead. He growled and he hissed and as he waddled off into the darkness, he gave me one last look back as if to say "to hell with you and your urban poultry."

What Does It Mean to "Live with Urban Wildlife?"

It is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days and is one that we explore in Wild in the City: Exploring The Intertwine. As a conservationist it is easy to focus in on the imperative to preserve imperiled species--but it is also a topic with profound spiritual, economic, intellectual, and environmental justice dimensions.  
Like many cities, Portland was built along a river--in fact at the confluence of two great rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia. The Willamette drains 11,500 square miles and flows almost due north for 187 miles until it runs into the mighty Columbia, turns left and heads to the sea.  In terms of average discharge, the Columbia is the 4th and the Willamette is the 19th largest of rivers in the United States. Their confluence area was once a sprawling floodplain covered in wet prairies and hardwood bottomland forest. From a conservation perspective there are few places in Oregon that would be less desirable to convert into an urban hardscape. Wildlife still abounds here---the fish and birds travel the migratory routes they have travelled since time immemorial. The question is not whether they will come, but what they will find when they arrive here.

Saving Imperiled Species
When peregrine falcons first began nesting on Portland's Fremont Bridge in 1994, the species was still on the front end of its recovery in Oregon. Despite having been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1973, more than two decades later, there were only 26 pairs of peregrines known to be nesting anywhere in Oregon. When they first arrived there was talk of actually removing their eggs or young from the urban nest site and fostering them into a more remote "safer" nest site on Mt. Hood.  At the time, Oregon had just emerged from the spotted owl wars pitting rural timber communities against endangered species recovery programs. Portland Audubon and others felt it was important not only that the community have a chance to experience these magnificent birds but also that urbanites be willing to  accommodate an endangered species in their own midst.  Initially, the Fremont site was expected to be a sacrifice site---good for education but not so much for productivity.  An extensive education, research, monitoring and management program dubbed " Peregrine Watch" was launched engaging natural resource agencies, Audubon, Oregon Department of Transportation and more than 100 volunteers.

Peregrine Falcon on Portland's Interstate Bridge
©Bob Sallinger

Oregon Visitor Association promotion 
featuring  Portland's commitment to 
"helping  humans and wildlife live together."
Nearly two decades further down the road, the Fremont Bridge today is Oregon's most productive known peregrine nest site, having fledged more than 50 young since 1994. Portland area bridges play host to more than 6% of the known peregrine falcon nesting population in Oregon. This month, the Oregon Department of Transportation received an Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative Award from the Federal Highway Administration for its
Strategy for Migratory Bird Management and Conservation---a program that one manager noted began with the effort to protect falcons.

Peregrine Falcon interpretive sign under Portland's Marquam Bridge.
© Tammi Miller
Past will need to be prologue. In 1998, Willamette River salmon and steelhead were also listed under the Endangered Species Act. Every fish that uses the 11,500 square mile Willamette River Basin needs to pass through downtown Portland, including 11 miles that have been listed as a Federal Superfund Site. Recovering listed salmon on the Willamette River has required a massive rethinking about how we protect and develop our urban waterway.

How do we take our river confluence, an area that once provided a wide swath of braided channels so shallow that you could walk from one site to the other in places, but which today has been channelized, deepened, hardened, and polluted, and turn it back into something ecologically functional? Peregrines were easy compared to the ecological and economic challenges of recovering our river, but programs such as the City of Portland Endangered Species Program and Watershed Health Management Plan are setting a course toward river health.
Restoration concept drawing for South Waterfront, a 140-acre brownfield site
that is being turned into Oregon's highest density development including more than
5,000 residents and 10,000 jobs but which also includes in water, riparian and upland
habitat restoration along the river, more than four acres of ecoroofs and
state-of-the-art sustainable stormwater strategies.
© City of Portland

Bird-Safe Buildings and Other Remedies  

Common Nighthawk
Painting: Robert W. Hines
Birds are not faring so well either. More than 200 species of birds pass through the Portland Metropolitan Area annually. According to the Audubon Common Birds in Decline Report,  approximately one out of four of these species is experiencing serious long-term declines. While the causes of decline often lie beyond our urban landscapes, there is much that we can do in our cities to increase permeability and reduce hazards on our urban landscapes ranging from protecting interconnected systems of natural areas to housing cats indoors to building birdsafe buildings and reducing nighttime lighting to reduce risk of collisions. In Portland, we are beginning to experiment with the potential for ecoroofs to provide biodiversity as well as sustainable stormwater and energy benefits. One hope is that we can bring back nighthawks, a species that was once fairly common over Portland but which declined concurrent with the disappearance of gravel rooftops. The City's Grey to Green Program seeks to add 43-acres of ecoroofs over the next several years.
What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?
-Robert Michael Pyle in The Thunder Tree

I can't put it any better than Robert Michael Pyle did in his book The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland.  For a population that is increasingly living on urban landscapes, conservation is going to begin in backyards, undeveloped lots and neighborhood greenspaces. If we want to raise the next generation of conservationists we need to inspire and engage them, not with panda bears and polar bears on television but rather with nature nearby.  Even in a "green" city like Portland, far too many residents do not have access to nature. A recent publication by the Coalition for a Livable Future showed that in Portland nearly half the residents of Portland do not have access to a park within walking distance of their homes. Too many people have bought into the concept that cities are places for people and not for wildlife to the point where they no longer even see, let alone understand, the wildlife that does still surround them.

Just a Coyote Strolling through the Neighborhood
©Bob Sallinger
On a very rare sunny warm Sunday morning in October a coyote strolled casually through a Portland neighborhood. The sun had brought the community out into the streets, jogging, strolling, greeting their neighbors like long lost friends. The coyote, which we would learn later had been habituated to human food handouts ranging from whole plucked chickens to leftovers from a Greek restaurant, strolled among them. For more than an hour he travelled a seemingly well-worn path. At one point I lost sight of him and stopped to ask a man tending to his yard whether he had seen a coyote pass by. "No," he told me, "but check down by the road on the basketball court. He is often there about this time of day." 
Hoops anybody?
©Bob Sallinger
Sure enough that was where he was and he quickly resumed his travels, me following a short distance behind. The sight of a coyote sharing sidewalks with humans was weird enough but what was truly amazing was the human reaction. For the most part there simply wasn't one. The vast majority of people tuned him out altogether. Some did a double take, stopping to stare for a few seconds, scowl, shake their heads and then resumed what they were doing. A very few whipped out their cell phones and took some pictures.  Over the next several months Audubon worked with the neighborhood to raise awareness and eliminate feeding. (View a sampling of essays from Wild in the City: God's Dog Rides MAX, Vaux's Swifts at Chapman School, Crows.)

Raptor Cams

In 2007 Audubon and a local television station, KGW put a cheap webcam in the window of an office looking out on a pair of red-tailed hawks that had nested on the adjacent fire escape. Today bird cams have proliferated but in 2007 the KGW-Audubon Raptor Cam was relatively new thing. It was a quick and dirty set-up--since the birds had already begun nesting, a proper installation was not feasible. The shot was compromised by a fuzzy focus and a windowsill that bisected the shot.  Occasionally office workers would knock the camera over and viewers would be treated to a sideways view of the nest. 
KGW-Audubon Raptor Cam Red-tail cares for recently hatched chick. 
©Dieter Waiblinger
The first year web hits approached 40,000. By year two we had a better camera and more than half a million hits. People follow the hawks like a favorite soap opera-- inspired by the hawks raising their young amid our concrete canyons. An online community has formed around the birds, classrooms use it to support lesson plans, and when the hawks shifted to a new site this year away from our prying lens, there was a general outpouring of grief.

It leaves me wondering, in the end does it inspire people to go outside and look up? To naturescape their yards? To support the next bond measure 

That, ultimately, is the real message behind Wild in the City: A Guide to the Intertwine---go outside, look up, down, and all around.  Connect!  We share our own yards, our neighborhoods, our greenspaces with a vast array of fellow travelers....there is much that we can do to be stewards of that trust. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Metropolitan Greenspaces to The Intertwine

Moderator: Mike Houck                                            View Readers' Comments

[Discussion topic: Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine]

Both editions of Wild in the City neatly bracket the Portland metropolitan region's efforts to integrate nature into the city.  The first edition celebrated urban greenspace planning from the late 1980s to the first wave of regional natural area acquisitions, while the region debated public policy regarding protection of nature in the city.   Wild in the City, Exploring The Intertwine picks up where the wisdom of protecting nature in the city is no longer debatable and that integrating nature into the urban fabric is considered essential to creating livable, healthy and economically successful cities and regions.

This blog entry traces the trajectory of urban greenspace planning in our region, from John Charles Olmsted's 1903 master plan for Portland Park to our newest regional initiative, The Intertwine.  Included are some lessons we've learned along the way that may be helpful for readers who may just be launching their own urban nature movement. 

No Room for Nature in the City?

As M J Cody noted last week, Portland Audubon's Urban Naturalist program was initially questioned by some, including other mainstream conservation organizations and agencies.  Allocating scarce resources to protecting "trashed" urban habitat was, they argued, problematic.  Likewise, many otherwise progressive urban planners asserted there was "no room" for nature in the modern, "new urbanist" city.  Some from the Congress for New Urbanism asserted that protecting "too much" greenspace or park land in cities was antithetical to good urban planning. 

It was clear, we had our work cut out for us.  It's taken thirty-odd years to reach the  tipping point where urban nature is not considered an oxymoron.  The new normal in many regions across the country, and internationally, is to integrate urban forest canopy, floodplains and wetlands, parks, and natural areas into greening and re-greening projects aimed at creating more livable and ecologically sustainable cities.   

Power of the Outside Expert

Dr. David Goode
 Fortunately, even in the 1980s there were a few models we could look to for advice and inspiration.  In 1984, I had the good fortune to meet the London Ecology Unit's Dr. David Goode at an urban wildlife conference in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Years later Goode addressed  Portland's City Club.  Dr. Goode's presentation on nature conservation in London's twelve boroughs was so powerful that civic leaders we'd been unsuccessfully courting for more than a decade urged us get on with similar work in Portland.    

Camley Street Natural Park
 The highlight of Goode's presentation was the creation of the London Wildlife Trust's Camley Street Natural Park at Kings Cross, adjacent to the Eurostar St Pancras rail station .  Camley, once a garbage heap along the Regent's Canal, was restored to a small, verdant wetland preserve and nature center next to the Regent's Canal and nearby low income housing---the only patch of green for nature play for nearby low income children.  The Camley Street story launched early restoration efforts in Portland. 

Lesson learned-----the power of the outside expert.  And if they have an English accent, so much the better!


Country in the City 
 A second inspiration came from New York City Park's Natural Resource Group-------affectionately known as the "Nergs."  They are responsible for managing more than 7,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat spread across the city's five boroughs.  Their publication, Country in the City, inspired a series of Country In The City symposia we co-hosted with Portland State University's Geography Department in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

Jon Kusler
Our 1990 Country In The City, Restoration and Management of Urban Stream and River Corridors, was another watershed event for us, drawing 700 experts and citizen activists from around the U. S to share research and on-the-ground case studies involving the then novel topics of green infrastructure and multi-objective management.  The national Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) and Association of State Floodplain Managers, and US EPA co-sponsored the symposium which attracted specialists in the field of urban stream restoration, including A. L. Riley of Berkeley, CA who founded California's Urban Creek Council; stream restorationist Robin Sortir, and Joan Florscheim of Phil Williams Associates.  Keynote speakers included  Goode; Jon Kusler, Rud Platt, Tony Hiss, author of Experience of Place; and Charles Little, whose Greeways for America. They all helped catalyze, and continue to lead, a national movement around green infrastructure and urban nature across the country and their influence is still felt in the Portland metropolitan region. 

Lesson learned------hosting symposia and conferences, while energy intensive, is a great strategy to build political and grassroots support and goes a long way in establishing long-term relationships with researchers and allies. 

Iconography:  The Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
Photo: Mike Houck
Pub owner Bud Clark---who had come out of nowhere to beat an entrenched incumbent city councilor in Portland's mayoral race in 1985----had just given a speech in the downtown Hilton Hotel.  As an avid duck hunter and canoeist he referenced Great Blue Herons numerous times during his speech.  I literally grabbed him as he walked out of the hotel and suggested that the heron should be proclaimed as Portland's official city bird.  After a couple of his signature "whoop, whoops!", two weeks later Portland had an official city bird.

While that may sound trivial, it was in fact, an important milestone in building an ongoing relationship with Portland's mayors and city councils for the last thirty-five years.  Each year since 1986 Portland's mayor reads a proclamation outlining what the city has done, and will do in the future, to ensure herons and their kin continue to share the city with humans.  (See an excerpt from Wild in the City below.)
Blue Heron Ale label

Serendipitously, while a friend and I were sitting in a local brewpub the afternoon the Great Blue Heron was named our city bird, the brewmaster happened by and asked what we were up to.  After recounting our city council meeting he informed us he'd just brewed a new-----as-yet-unnamed------ ale.  That evening, and to this day, we quaff what is still one if Bridgeport BrewPub's signature beers, Blue Heron Ale.  Another trivial fact?  Not really.  Bridgeport became the gathering place for the next two decades where many a plan was hatched---and more importantly important relationships were formed---over pitchers of Blue Heron Ale. 

Lesson learned------make time for celebrating your successes, preferably over a great ale! 

A Model to Emulate

Janet Cobb
As the coalition of park providers, urban habitat, trail and park advocates, and progressive elected leaders in the Portland region launched the Metropolitan Greenspaces Initiative we badly needed an on-the-ground example of inner urban and large landscape protection and management,  a model we might emulate in the Portland-Vancouver region.  We set up two visits to the East Bay Regional Park District, which had just passed a $225 million bond measure to add to their already significant natural system Janet Cobb, who had directed their successful bond campaign, arranged for two days of field tours as well as visits with numerous staff.  Cobb later traveled to Portland as well, providing us with invaluable advice on running a regional open space bond measure.  Those trips and Cobb's assistance ramped up the political will to create our own regional natural area initiative. 

Lesson learned------ Elected officials and policy makers are loath to be a pioneer, particularly in a down economy.  Use successful models to emulate and generate political will. 

Urban Biodiversity is Not an Oxymoron

One of our biggest hurdles to building the political will and agency support for protecting restoring and managing urban wildlife habitat was the entrenched bias against allegedly "trashed" urban natural resources.   A prime example was an early natural heritage project that mapped the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.  When mapped as such a large scale the pixel size was so great that the entire Portland metropolitan region was interpreted as "urban", meaning there was little if any biodiversity in the urban landscape.  

Fortunately one of our early partners, the Oregon office of U S Fish and Wildlife, contracted with the Oregon Natural Heritage Database to remap the urban growth boundary which surrounds the 24 cities and three counties within the Portland region.  At that finer scale what had appeared as a monotypic "urban" landscape revealed significant areas of high species richness right into the center of the urbanized environment.  

That early mapping effort justified future work by our regional government, Metro, and others in the Portland-Vancouver region, on both sides of the Columbia River. 


Lesson learned---------People love maps.  The first thing they do is look for their house.  Your best friend is the nearest GIS whiz.   Scale is everything!

Thinking Locally, Acting Regionally

On the Oregon side of the Columbia River we have the only directly elected regional government----Metro in the country.   In addition to managing solid waste, land use and transportation planning, and other issues of regional importance, Metro got into the regional parks, trails, and natural arena in the early 1990s.  Thanks to Oregon's then Senator Mark Hatfield--- the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin, and Illinois Congressman Sidney R. Yeats funds were made available to a new urban office of U. S. Fish and Wildlife in Chicago which catalyzed the early Chicago Wilderness effort and launched our Metropolitan Greenspaces Program through our regional office of USFWS.   Without the infusion of federal funding and technical assistance of the Service's Oregon Field Office and Regional Director our greenspaces planning would have never gotten off the ground.*

Over the course of the next sixteen years Metro Council adopted a bi-state regional Metropolitan Greenspaces Master Plan for natural areas and parks, which included Clark County Washington across the Columbia River. The Plan called for "a bi-state, cooperative approach to establish an interconnected system of natural areas, open space, trails and greenways for wildlife and people throughout the four-country metropolitan area."

Clark County Legacy Lands
In 1995 and 2006 Metro, working with local park providers and grass roots organizations like Audubon Society of Portland, Urban Greenspaces Institute, Trust for Public Land and hundreds of "friends" groups, passed two bond measures totaling more than $360 million with which the regional government has purchased more than 12,000 acres and protected more than 75 miles of stream corridors, and constructed many miles of the regional trail network.  Local park providers received 25% of the bonds to acquire their own high priority fish and wildlife habitat.  Similar acquisitions and trail building was realized across the Columbia River in Vancouver and Clark County. 

Metro Acquisitions Map

Lesson learned-------"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Think big."  Daniel Burnham

The Intertwine and The Intertwine Alliance

After the passage of the region's second bond measure in 2006 it was obvious, especially to those of us who had worked on the 1992 Metropolitan Greenspaces Master Plan and both regional bond measures, that to achieve the long range vision of an interconnected bi-state system of parks, trails, and natural areas we were going to have to ramp up, and institutionalize the effort at every level, from the all-volunteer friends organizations to the bi-state region.  We knew we had move from mounting a series of "one offs" to a sustained level of engagement, to achieve the same level of collaboration, marketing and branding that led to Chicago Wilderness's success.

David Bragdon
In 2007 Metro Council President David Bragdon, who now directs New York Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability invited Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for what might be considered the urban greenspaces equivalent of a SmackDown between Chicago and Portland.  Who, they challenged one another, would preside over the greenest city in America?  Shortly afterwards, Bragdon announced-----at Bridgeport BrewPub over pints of Blue Heron Ale-----that his final two years in office launching the creation of the "world's greatest park system" and the coalition that would make that a reality would be his legacy at Metro.

2,800 sqare mile geography of The Intertwine region
SW Washington and NW Oregon
With the enthusiastic support of the entire regional Council, Metro incubated what over the next five years would become an independent, nonprofit organization, The Intertwine Alliance.  The Alliance is dedicated to creating The Intertwine----a world class system of parks, trails, and natural areas for the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington metropolitan region.  The Alliance's goals are to protect the region's biodiversity and integrate parks, trails, and natural areas across the urban and rural landscapes in a 3,000 square mile area  encompassing southwest Washington and northwest Oregon.  The Intertwine Alliance, is a coalition of  federal, state, local and regional government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and for the first time in our region, health organizations like ODS and Kaiser Permanente and outdoor wear businesses like Keen Footwear and Columbia Sportswear. 

Portland Planning Embraces Wild in the City

Where urban planners in the early 1980s questioned the wisdom and validity of integrating nature in the city, today Portland's Buerau of Planning and Sustainability's new Portland Plan calls for the city to work actively with The Intertwine Alliance to ensure the region’s network of parks trails and natural areas are completed and maintained.  It also recognizes the need to help Portlanders connect with nature through land acquisition, restoration, watershed health, and encouraging active transportation, and conservation education.

Portland's Sustainability Institute recently produced a video, "We Build Green Cities" that for the first time integrates green building objectives with the protection of fish and wildlife habitat. We've come a long way since 1980. 

Building A National Agenda

Metropolitan Greenspaces Alliance
What goes around, comes around.  Three years ago, in concert with our colleagues at Chicago Wilderness, The Intertwine Alliance joined with similar groups around the country to launch the Metropolitan Greenspaces Alliance (MGA) including Houston Wilderness,   Chicago Wilderness, Cleveland's Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity, Milwaukee's SweetWater, Los Angeles' Amigos De Los Rios, and the San Francisco Bay's Open Space Alliance

Vibrant Cities---Urban Forests Initiative
The U S Forest Service's Vibrant Cities--Urban Forests initiative brought urban ecologists and urban forest canopy experts from around the country in 2011 to develop a series of thirteen recommendations for how the Forest Service and other federal agencies might direct their resources to achieve their missions in metropolitan regions across the United States.  The final report, Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests included, among its thirteen recommendations the following, to "assist in the creation of and provide support for metropolitan alliances within every metropolitan region that will develop comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional Urban Regional Natural Resource Plans."

An Excerpt from Wild in the City
Click here to read the full excerpt.


Mike Houck, Director

U S Fish and Wildlife Service former regional director, Marv Plenert and his staff, Russ Peterson, Bob Fields, Pat Wright, and Dennis Peters---all since retired----deserve a huge debt of gratitude.  More recently, State Supervisor Paul Henson and his staffer Jennifer Thompson and Regional Director Robyn Thorson have continued USFWS's support of The Intertwine Alliance.  Special thanks to Nancy Pollot for her encouragement and posting our blogs. 


Suggested Readings 


The Last Landscape, William H Whyte

The Granite Garden: Urban Nature And Human Design, Anne W Spirn

Green Urbanism, Tim Beatley

Biophilic Cities, Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning , Tim Beatley

The Unofficial Countryside, Richard Mabey

The Ecological City, Rud Platt, Editor

The Humane Metropolis, Rud Platt, Ecological Cities Project

Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

Nature Principle, Richard Louv

The Thunder Tree, Robert Michael Pyle

NEXT UP: Living with Urban Wildlife

Next week's blog will focus on "living with urban wildlife."  What happens when we succeed beyond our wildest dreams in integrating the built and the natural when we invite wildlfie, quite literally, into our backyards.  How do we co-exist with urban wildlife?  Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland, will share his perspectives on living in harmony with Wild in the City.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Access to Nature Enhances Livability of Cities

by Moderator M.J. Cody                              View Readers' Comments

First edition of Wild in the City
was published in 2000 

Wild in the City: Exploring The Intertwine and its predecessor, Wild in the City: A Guide to Portland’s Natural Areas, co-edited by Mike Houck and M.J. Cody, offer lively personal essays on a “sense of place,” natural history essays, and site guides that celebrate the city as a unique, vibrant ecosystem integrating nature with the built environment. Following is an anatomy of how and why these books came to be.


In livable cities is the preservation of the wild.

                        —Urban Greenspaces Institute motto

Inspired by a conviction that conservation must focus on cities if we want to protect the wild places beyond the urban fringe, our new mantra, "In livable cities is the preservation of the wild," is an urban corollary to Thoreau's aphorism, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." It will only be through the creation of humane, wildlife-rich cities—urban areas where people actually want to live—that we will stanch the flow of ever-increasing development across the rural landscape and wild lands.

Young Naturalist exploring Portland's
160-acre Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge,

Photo Mike Houck
When the Audubon Society of Portland launched its Urban Naturalist program in 1980 urban wildlife was considered an oxymoron by many. The assertion was that the region’s urban growth boundary was intended to focus on development inside and to protect nature “out there” beyond the boundary. But the Society, long before it was popular to do so, recognized that protecting urban wildlife in the Portland area was vital, and that, as Robert Michael Pyle so aptly writes in his book, The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland, “What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?”  

Thirty years later access to nature in the city is a critical element of Portland’s modern urban planning and design. 

Wild in the City: How did it happen?

Urban Naturalist 1982
first edition of Audubon
Society of Portland's quarterly
urban natural history journal.
Every book has its own distinctive path to getting published. Wild in the City is a product of serendipity and hard work. Its genesis was in 1982 with the publication of the Audubon Society of Portland’s seasonal journal, “The Urban Naturalist” —a labor of love written, illustrated, and designed by a cadre of dedicated volunteers from across the metropolitan region. After more than a decade of quarterly deadlines, inertia ruled. The energy and motivation to continue, or even to create a book (always in the back of the Audubon crew’s minds), would have to come from elsewhere.

That’s when serendipity interceded from a totally unsuspected source: Mike Houck, part of the “Urban Naturalist” team, reconnected with his old high school chum, M. J. Cody, who had recently returned home to the Northwest from a television writing career in Hollywood.

For years, MJ had suggested to Mike that they collaborate on a book, perhaps a travelogue on Oregon’s special places. This time, on a sunny afternoon over beer at RiverPlace Marina, Mike posited the idea of a guide to Portland’s natural spaces. MJ jumped at the idea. Then, the flash of realization: the archived stacks of “The Urban Naturalist.” Would the old crew be willing to update the material? Would others join the cause? Would a publisher take on the project? They would. They did. Wild in the City: A Guide to Portland’s Natural Areas was published in 2000.

Mother and daughter enjoy wildflowers, 
Tanner Springs Park in Portland's Pearl District.
Photo: Mike Houck
That we have so many spectacular urban greenspaces to write about is due to a combination of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches to protecting, restoring, and managing the region's natural resources, inside and outside our urban growth boundaries. In fact, many of the contributors to Wild in the City have been active at the local, county, and regional levels working to create and implement regulatory programs to protect fish and wildlife habitat, manage urban stormwater, and better integrate the natural and built environments throughout the region.

Since that first edition in 2000, our regional government, Metro, and local park providers (thanks to the passage of two regional bond measures totaling more than $360 million for land acquisition) have added more than 15,000 acres of natural areas into the public realm. Seventy miles of streamside habitat have been protected; and many miles of trails have been added to the Portland-Vancouver regional trail network.

It was time for another edition of Wild in the City

The original creative team assembled and the process of adding and eliminating sites and content began. This time around, more illustrators and writers, now familiar with the first edition, were eager to volunteer contributions. Thus, the new collection of essays, sites and rambles, along with narratives on efforts to better integrate the built and natural environments was born.

The Wild in the City books are not only indispensable guides to the Portland-Vancouver parks, trails, and natural areas. Thanks to the many talented writers, the books are also an expression of the philosophy that nature not only belongs in the city, but is essential to creating and sustaining our quality of life in this splendid place.

Your Wild in the City?

The Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area is blessed with an abundance of creative writers, illustrators, naturalists and conservationists, as well as collaborative government agencies, all of whom stepped up to help with the project. Is our small corner of the Pacific Northwest exceptional? 

No, it isn't. 

Other areas throughout the country (and world) have their own special attributes, their own extraordinary people, and their own brilliance and sense of place.

In particular, David Goode's Wild in London inspired our work, as did New York City's Natural Resource Group and the East Bay Regional Park District. (These and other inspired conservation efforts will be discussed in the weeks to come).

The Urban Naturalist program and eventual production of Wild in the City, A Guide to Portland's Natural Areas was inspired by Dr. David Goode, then director of the Long Ecology Unit, and by the London Ecology Unit's urban conservation work in the twelve London boroughs.

What we all have in common is facing significant challenges to create livable, ecologically rich cities, while simultaneously saving our rural wild lands.  

Foreground: 160-acre Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge,
Portland's first official urban wildlife refuge, established in 1988.
Background: 350-acre Ross Island and downtown Portland.
Photo: Mike Houck
Our approach may not work for everyone, but we felt that producing a city guide that was more than a handbook to parks, trails, and natural spaces—a more literary tome full of personal stories and insights—would give readers a better understanding of the riches surrounding us and the importance of not only being aware, but experiencing the joys of preserving, restoring, and celebrating nature in this singular place we call home. 

What is going on with the wild in your city?  How does your city use its natural areas?